The Union Drive To Organize BofA’s Tellers – Will The Government Give An Assist?

Once the government gets involved in private enterprise there is no telling from which direction pressure will come to advance special interests in those enterprises. Today’s example is the union drive to organize Bank of America’s tellers.

Charlie Gasparino broke the story today on CNBC and has a column up about it in the New York Post. The unionizing effort is coming from the Service Employees International Union which spent a boat load of money getting Obama elected. They have big time chits to cash in and Gasparino thinks they’re calling them in:

The SEIU, a national union with locals in a vast range of private and public workplaces, has been trying for more than a year to organize BofA’s tellers and office workers — tens of thousands of jobs. But there’s no sign it will pull that off without cooperation from management.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the SEIU in recent weeks ramped up its criticism of BofA, demanding Lewis’ scalp in mass rallies outside the bank’s headquarters and calling on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to force him out.

BofA officials tell me that the SEIU agitation took off after Lewis refused a sit-down with the union’s leaders.

And the union’s public gripes about Lewis seem pretty thin. SEIU officials told me that the protests are about the fact that tellers and other lower-level employees were being forced to sell banking products to consumers that contributed to the collapse of the financial system last fall — and that stopping such sales practices requires Lewis’ removal.

As Gasparino points out this is thin gruel indeed. It strains credulity to suppose that their interest in expending union funds and manpower is meant to help reform the financial system. The more likely point is to put pressure on Lewis, to threaten his job as it were, and hope that induces him to cave to the union and support open the bank’s doors to their efforts.

Ordinarily, this would seem to be a stretch but as you know these aren’t ordinary times. BofA is a ward of the government and has already acquiesced to significant changes in its board configuration and stripped Lewis of the title of chairman. It certainly isn’t unreasonable to postulate a phone call from the Treasury suggesting that cooperation with the SEIU might be in his best interests. Lewis knows the drill, he’s already been through it with Merrill.

Despite Obama’s protestations about not wanting to run banks or auto companies, the reality is that he is a very pro-union politician. He owes them big time and I suspect knows that he could probably get away with strong arming the bank on this one without paying much of a political price. As for Lewis, it would be the ultimate test — open your bank to a union organizing drive or get carried out on your shield. The final test of what he’s made of.

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